Cathedrals and Clergy Formation Revisited

AKMA writes on a visit and presentation by Bishop Neil Alexander on the purpose and point of worship in the seminary context. Apparently he listed four:

  1. A monastic model where the seminarians are formed into a particular tradition
  2. A pedagogical model where they learn how to do a liturgy or liturgies
  3. A parish model that replicates where the students came from and where they will go
  4. Creative worship where they freely explore liturgical possibilities without the expectation that it will be used in a parish

My seminary experiences were heavy on the last–and I hated it… The model I’ve experienced that worked the best is the first–the monastic model–as lived out at General. Once I encountered it, I knew that’s what I had been missing at my first two seminaries…

Reading this reminded me of my earlier thoughts on clergy formation wherein I was thinking out loud along with some others about what new models for clergy education could look like. Rather than centering the formative educational experience at an academic institution, I suggested basing it in an ecclesial institution: at cathedrals rather than seminaries. Academic environments are great for training academics. But what if we want to train priests…?

15 thoughts on “Cathedrals and Clergy Formation Revisited

  1. *Christopher

    I still see concerns with this approach primarily because I don’t think we merely want to train academics either. I chose to do seminary divinity training rather than master of arts work because I felt it important to get the parish experience even if ultimately, I would be teaching history, liturgy, etc. We need to be talking about monastic models not simply as matters of the ordained but as a way of being laypersons in the world, after all, the first monks were most often laity.

  2. Derek the Ænglican

    That’s a good point, *Christopher, but under my model the seminaries would still be open–they’d just have less on-site students but more of them would be MA, certificates in ministry, etc. rather than MDivs.

    Perhaps one of the things I enjoyed so much about General is that it does have more of a monastic quality with a balance of regular community worship and academic learning. That having been said, seminaries haven’t exactly been producing or promoting the kind of renewal rooted in the spirit of monasticism that we hope for. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what might…

  3. JP

    The traditional pattern here in England is very much of the monastic model. For example, here at Cuddesdon, just outside Oxford, there are about 60 of us training full-time. Theological study is important, as are contextual placements in parishes, schools, hospitals etc, but far more important IMO is the experience of living together in community, eating together, doing chores together, and generally knocking corners off each other.

    To those who wonder if this could become a bit of an ivory tower, I’d say that the fact that two-thirds of the students are married, and about two-thirds of them have families, means that there’s very little chance of us forgetting what the real world looks like!

  4. Derek the Ænglican

    Fascinating…I haven’t looked at how seminary level work is done in the UK. I definitely need to check this out.

  5. lutherpunk

    Derek – doesn’t Nashotah work on a semi-monastic model? At least, it seems I recall hearing that it ws part of their history.

  6. lutherpunk

    BTW, I had no use for “liturgical imagination” as expressed at my seminary. Drums and crazy altar cloths and invoking Hecate was enough to make me walk out of chapel my first year and then cease going altogether.

  7. William

    Nashotah House for many years (I’m uncertain if this is still the case) had a policy that all instructors must have ten years of parish (or equivalent) ministry before joining the teaching staff. Whatever one may think of NH’s current theo-political leanings, there is much worthwhile to consider in such a policy.

  8. William

    Lutherpunk slipped in before my comment and, yes, NH was founded on a monastic model. Students were praying the Divine Hours and so forth long before the “Ritualist” movement took hold in the American mainstream.

  9. John-Julian, OJN

    As a matter of fact, in 1842, Nashotah House was actually the first Anglican “monastic” community since the dissolution in 1539 – preceding even the early English experiments. At NH they called themselves the “United Brethren”, required celibacy of all students and faculty, required that all personal assets be pooled, developed their own form of the Divine Office, required obedience to the “president”, required cassocks/gowns, etc. The only thing actually missing was life vows…which (for reasons I have never understood) was at that time the utter bete noir in Anglican minds.

    Beside that, I support Bishop Alexander’s first criterion – indeed, I place it far above everything else. There is nothing else in the practice of parish priesthood which cannot be learned from books, interning, and just plain messing up as one gains experience. But after ordination, one will never again find the “semi-monastic” experience of 24/7 community and liturgy that can exist in seminary. And it is something one falls back upon for the rest of priestly life.

    I should add that this fall I celebrate my Golden Jubilee of ordination, and I’ve watched “priesthood” passing along for a lot of years, and the real failures I’ve seen were those who never had this kind of spiritual solidity in the formation process.

  10. Derek the Ænglican

    I have heard these things about Nashotah House. They were advertising an opening in my field a while back. I wrestled with myself for a while about whether I should apply for it or not and eventually decided not.

    Fr. John-Julian, I agree that this formation is absolutely indispensable–most clergy will never have the opportunity for an environment like this again. I’m just worried about practices like these being watered-down or lost.

  11. John-Julian, OJN

    Just ran on to this:

    Fr Herbert Kelly, founder of the Society of the Sacred Mission: “I wish the clergy would DO ten times less, and THINK ten times more. What we want of a prophet is not work, but vision, sight and prayer.”

  12. AKMA

    Derek, I’m quite sympathetic to the possibility to which you advert. My fear is that it’s already happening, de facto, in diocesan training programs.

    I think it makes an unfortunate difference that many (not all) of such programs are staffed not by the church’s theologians, but by people who “did well in seminary,” people who have a passionate enthusiasm for education (perhaps not equaled by their grasp of the subtleties of what they’re teaching), and people who know a subject area better than the rest of the people in the region.

    Perhaps that doesn’t make a difference. If not, we might expect to see more medical schools where the teaching faculty was recruited from enthusiastic locals, people who did well in advanced physiology courses, people who keep up with particular topics on the internet. Or law schools, likewise. The readiness with which the church has disposed of standards of rigor in instruction, however, suggests to me that the pertinent authorities just don’t think that theological soundness matters very much (that or that it’s pretty easy to attain). I take this as an inauspicious omen for the church of my latter years.

  13. Derek the Ænglican

    Very true… And that speaks an important challenge against my original notion of more diocesan based education, too. I haven’t encountered many diocesan training programs at this point, but have heard stories…

    Enthusiasm alone is not enough. And–I’d say that scholarship alone is not enough as well. Theological soundness hits it right on the head.

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  15. Ren Aguila

    It seems very apt but some of your thoughts may have been anticipated by the ideas of G. A. Selwyn (who ended his life as Bishop of New Zealand), who wrote this long tract on cathedrals and their role in the diocese. It is very interesting, though dated in some places, but it only shows that ideas like what appears in this post and its relatives have been discussed in previous generations.

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